Shortly after releasing a critically acclaimed debut album -- 1998's 2000 Fold -- a couple of left-coast emcees, Ryu and Tak, and their turntablist/producer, DJ Cheapshot, single-handedly created a deafening buzz in the underground only to quietly disband early last year. After a brief sabbatical, the resurgent, L.A.-based hip-hop combo Styles of Beyond has returned with a slammin' follow-up and a score to settle. The cover of Megadef looks like a snapshot inadvertently taken by a camera dangling off the shoulder of a CSI photographer at the site of a grisly homicide. The table is littered with still-burning cigarette butts and freshly cut lines of coke, and it's splattered with buckets of blood, Jackson Pollock-style.
Whereas 2000 Fold pushed hip-hop's limits and had an element of experimentalism, Megadef is a more straightforward and menacing affair. Lyrically, Ryu and Tak sport ski masks and pack crowbars as they indict antagonists like the club owners who expect them to play benefit shows for a fraction of their till with this GoodFellas-like quatrain: "If the club burned down, motherfuck you pay me/Ten bucks at thirty thou, fuck you pay me/Listen, you want it free I don't agree I'm not a rookie now/So fuck your benefit show if you're getting thirty thou" (from "Pay Me"). With a Neptunesesque groove and rapid-fire flow, it's easily the strongest cut on the disc.
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With the exception of a few sonic missteps ("Mr. Brown" and "Eurobiks") that interrupt the aural continuity of the record, this is, bar none, the year's finest, most cohesive slab of wax. From the album's cover, you'd think this would be some hard-hittin' shit on the hip-hop tip, yet another status-quo mesh of metal and rap by some Durst-styled clowns. But it's not. Make no mistake: There's plenty of guitar work on the album and rhymes galore, but the cadence has a vintage throwback flavor, and the guitar tone is as primitive as the riffs, which sound like they were played through a $20 cigarette amp. So unless those CSI cats pick up a copy of Megadef or talk to the heads in the underground who know what's really going on, they may as well add this to the unsolved file and keep scratchin' their heads.